Court sees credibility issues in alleged business judgment

September 11, 2019
By: Charles Lamberton

Upholding a jury verdict for the plaintiff in an age discrimination case, the Court in Westmoreland v. TWC Admin. LLC, No. 18-1600 (4th Cir. May 22, 2019) said “Westmoreland[] … was nearly 61 years of age when fired, TWC terminated her after 30 years of consistently satisfactory work, it replaced her with a 37-year-old, the supervisory TWC official who delivered the news and signed the termination paperwork made a condescending and age-related remark immediately after the firing, and all TWC decisionmakers were aware of Westmoreland’s advanced age. Moreover, although TWC’s sole justification for its action was Westmoreland’s backdating of a form in violation of company policy, the offense was isolated, lesser sanctions were available, and company officials had advised her that the offense was not serious and she had nothing to worry about.”  The Court also emphasized that juries can always assess the credibility of an employer’s reasons for terminating the plaintiff, even if couched as an exercise of business judgment. “Of course, it would be improper for a jury to rule for an employee because it believed her firing was not a ‘wise’ or ‘prudent’ employment decision. But nothing bars a jury from considering an employee’s tenure and performance in evaluating whether her employer’s justification for her termination is so flimsy as to be untrue or implausible, and thus asserted in an attempt to mask a discriminatory motive.”